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Les Ross in 2011 travelling on a mainline charter train hauled by his locomotive
Early life and career
He attended King Edward VI Aston School in Aston, Birmingham and left there with 10 O Levels. His first job after school was at IBM, but he did not like the job and left after a year. His next job was at Witton Cemetery which he described in a 2009 interview as being "Dickensian by comparison" as "People used fountain pens to put things in the register", but which he thoroughly enjoyed.
At the age of 17, Les won a DJ competition, which was run by local paper, the Birmingham Evening Mail, beating Johnnie Walker, who came second. Part of his prize was to appear at Radio Luxembourg for an audition, but this never happened. He was offered his first gig at the Mecca Ballroom in Birmingham, where he worked twice a week. Then moving onto the Birmingham Rollerskating Rink where he played five nights a week.
BBC Radio Birmingham
The break he was waiting for came in 1970, when he joined BBC Radio Birmingham now BBC WM, presenting a Saturday morning show with John Henry. “Ross and Henry” was a ground-breaking formula in radio; much admired in the industry. It was one of the first “zoo-radio” formats – involving a studio audience and interactive elements and phone-in requests presented by breathy blonde Fiona MacDonald. The most popular and listened to show on the station, Les was soon established as the most popular presenter on the station having taken over the breakfast show from Peter Powell who moved on to Radio 1 and then Radio Luxembourg. The breakfast show, entitled “On The Move”, was unusual because it started at 5 am. The BBC national networks did not start programming until 6 am making Les the only presenter on the air in the UK for one hour a day. The Radio Birmingham transmitter was the most powerful in the country at the time and so Les enjoyed an audience of shift workers from all over the country.
Radio Tees & BRMB
In 1974, Les applied to work at BRMB; but they rejected him. Instead they chose to hire his Saturday co-presenter John Henry – thus damaging Radio Birmingham’s most listened to music show. So, in the summer of 1975, Les joined Radio Tees in the North East of England, presenting their Breakfast show. He also presented a successful Saturday morning music show which used the talents of the station’s record librarian Wincey Willis as co-presenter. In March 1976, Les went back to Birmingham & joined BRMB, taking over the Breakfast show from Adrian Juste, who had left to join Radio 1.
Les won many awards, including, 'Independent Radio Personality of the Year Award 1985', 'Top Breakfast Show 1986, 1994, & 1990' and in 1997, Les received a Sony Award and an MBE from the Queen for his services to broadcasting.
Xtra AM & Back to BRMB
With the launch of sister station Xtra AM in 1989, Les moved on to present there for four years, leaving other presenters to carry out a near impossible task of replacing Les on FM breakfast. In August 1993, Les returned to BRMB Breakfast show, where he had female co-presenters by his side during this period, including Suzi Becker & Tammy Gooding. After 26 years, on Friday 27 September 2002, Les presented his final BRMB Breakfast show, live from Birmingham International Station. As 9 o'clock approached, he hopped on a train (hauled by electric locomotive no. 86259 especially named 'Les Ross' by Virgin Trains) to symbolise the end.
He later purchased and preserved this locomotive in operational condition following its retirement from regular passenger service. Les was a train spotter and railway enthusiast from the early 1960s, and ownership of the 1966-built Class 86 locomotive perpetuates his continued interests in railway affairs. Locomotive 86259 has been returned to main-line use and sees use on various railtours, painted in 'Electric Blue' livery.
On Monday 6 January 2003, Les took over from David Hamilton, on Birmingham's Saga 105.7 FM Breakfast show, thus doubling its audience. However, in December 2004, he quit the station as he claimed the station management was guilty of sending "nannying" e-mails which were turning him into a "robo-jock". Les decided he'd suffered enough upon the final straw - or should that be, the final coffee, when he was banned from drinking coffee during his early Breakfast show.
He announced his departure, which was planned for Christmas Eve 2004, after he was only offered a one-year contract, below half-pay, despite doubling the show's ratings in recent audience research figures. Les actually stated "How much would I have had to put the ratings up by just to get the same deal as I was on before? If I had been happy and felt that I had support, I might have stayed for half the money. But I wasn't happy and I feel that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys". Les's departure came before Christmas Eve, as station bosses decided to take action as he talked to the local press about what had happened.
Back to the Beeb
Rumour mills went quickly into action about where Les would turn up next? BBC Radio WM, snapped him up to present a weekly show on Sunday mornings from 9am-Midday. So on Sunday 6 February 2005, Les presented his first weekly show on BBC WM. He would also cover for various holidaying presenters on the station including Adrian Goldberg, Ed Doolan and Danny Kelly's afternoon show, which Les would later take over permanently.
In addition to his Sunday morning show, on Saturday 23 July 2005, Les also took over the Saturday Breakfast show from 6-9am.
Back On Daily
Les took over the Monday to Friday 1-4pm slot from Danny Kelly on WM on Tuesday 10 April 2007.
BBC WM's managing editor, Keith Beech, said: "Les Ross is one of the best-loved and most popular presenters there is. I'm excited about the prospect of hearing him every day here on BBC WM."
In early 2009, the show went out from 2-4pm on weekdays and has since left the station just after his 60th Birthday.
On 7 December 2009, Les Ross returned to the airwaves when he became the presenter of the Big City Breakfast Show on Birmingham's Big City Radio 89.1. He hosted his final show for the station on Friday 26 March 2010. He returned to the station on 10 February 2013 to front a Sunday afternoon show.
- Young, Graham (2 April 2009). "Les Ross ready to hang up his headphones". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
- Young, Graham (7 December 2009). "Legendary DJ Les Ross MBE comes out of retirement for third time". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
- "Les Ross returns to radio in Birmingham". Radio Today. 12 February 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2013.